Shoppers and Supermarkets Reducing Plastic Waste

When it comes to waste, grocery shopping is a major contributor to unnecessary plastic. It’s estimated that we can currently recycle a third of our landfill waste, but it would be more efficient not to produce it in the first place. With every Irish person generating over 60 kg of plastic a year and more than 60% of that waste coming from plastic packaging, there is an emphasis on cutting the amount of plastic used by stores in their products.

Making plastic-free products available to consumers hasn’t necessarily been an agenda for supermarkets, with calls being made for retailers to bring the prices of loose produce in line with packaged fruit and vegetables. Loose produce has been found to be almost twice as expensive in several Irish supermarkets. Many consumers are urged to support local greengrocers that are less likely to sell packaged products.

Despite the urge to be more environmentally conscious, making the greener decision is often weighed against a price difference. In contrast, by showing that you can save money, people are found to cooperate with schemes readily. This is reflected in the drop-off in use of plastic bags in Ireland following the introduction of a compulsory fee for purchasing plastic bags. On the introduction of a 5p charge in England in 2015, sales of plastic bags have dropped 90% in four years – taking an estimated 15 billion bags out of circulation.

In late July it was reported that supermarkets can face fines and risk being publicly named for creating excess waste or using plastic excessively. The news came following environment minister Richard Bruton stating that the higher waste fees would be introduced with the aim of getting carbon and plastic pledges from companies. A tougher stance will reportedly be taken on companies who take refuse to opt in to initiatives such as reducing plastic wrapping on fruit and vegetables, with Mr. Bruton stating that there will be fees and would “proceed, if necessary, by regulation.”

Supervalu currently lead their competitors in acknowledging consumer demand for reduced waste, having recently swapped all plastic bags with biodegradable alternatives, hoping to take 2.5 million bags out of circulation within a year. It follows on from their introduction of a variety of biodegradable plastics in the chain and they will be trialling loose coffee, spices and cheeses among other items in the coming months. Lidl currently offer in-store recycling stations, Tesco aim to eliminate hard-to-recycle materials by the end of this year and Aldi aim to ensure a 50% reduction in plastic packaging by 2025.

Despite policymakers encouraging such initiatives, however, it has been noted that an ultimate driving force in bringing about the necessary change is a mass shift in consumer habits and attitudes. The colloquial “Attenborough Effect” is one such method, credited with causing a reduction in peoples use of plastic following the demonstration of marine plastic pollution in the Blue Planet II series. Following the series, a large shift was observed in consumers attitude toward plastic, with half of interviewed UK consumers actively cutting their single-use plastic habit in the last year. Zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau has succinctly said that instead of a few people making massive changes, we need millions of people making smaller ones.

1:  S. McNeice, Calls for supermarkets to bring price of loose fruit & veg in line with packaged items, https://www.newstalk.com/news/calls-supermarkets-bring-price-loose-fruit-veg-line-packaged-items-893800, (accessed 19 August 2019).

2:  J. McEnroe, Supermarkets face fines for excess plastic waste, https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/supermarkets-face-fines-for-excess-plastic-waste-939292.html, (accessed 19 August 2019).

3:  K. O’Sullivan, SuperValu to ditch plastic in favour of compostable shopping bags, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/supervalu-to-ditch-plastic-in-favour-of-compostable-shopping-bags-1.3987113, (accessed 19 August 2019).

4:  D. Hickey, ‘We can do better on Waste’, https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/outdoorsandgarden/donal-hickey-we-can-do-better-on-waste-944663.html, (accessed 19 August 2019).

5:  K. Donaghy, ‘It’s just people selling you stuff you don’t need’, https://www.independent.ie/life/its-just-people-selling-you-stuff-you-dont-need-how-to-reduce-plastics-in-your-grocery-shop-38298386.html, (accessed 19 August 2019).

6:  WI, Report: Sustainable Packaging in 2019, https://www.globalwebindex.com/reports/sustainable-packaging-unwrapped, (accessed 20 August 2019).

Image Credit:  Australia Has Cut Its Plastic Bag Use By 80 Percent In Just 3 Months, http://www.scienceinsanity.com/2019/04/australia-has-cut-its-plastic-bag-use.html, (accessed 19 August 2019).

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